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The Sunday Opera: Johann Adolph Hasse's "Didone Abbandonata"

When I brought Johann Adolph Hasse’s “Catone in Utica” to the Sunday Opera a few years ago, several of you were kind enough to email to say how much you enjoyed the work. It’s taken me a little while, but I’ve finally brought a Hasse opera back to you on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/19 3:00 p.m.) when we’ll hear his 1742 work “Didone Abbandonata.” 

Based on the same libretto as Purcell’s “Dido and Aneas” which was penned some 35 years earlier, Hasse’s work has been sadly overshadowed by the popularity of Purcell’s. Personally, we prefer Hasse’s as there seems to be a bit more life and animation in the vocal line. 

The story is pretty much the same, but there are a few more complications caused by misplaced love in Hasse’s work. 

Didone (Dido) (Theresa Holzhauser) is the queen of Carthage (now Tunisia), but her kingdom is far from secure. Enea (Aneas) (Flavio Ferri-Benedetti), who found refuge in Carthage on his way home from the Trojan Wars, has announced he is leaving because a vision of his dead father reminded him that he had a quest to found a new Troy in Italy. Enea has helped Didone retain her throne, but with his departure, it opens the door for other African leaders like Larba (Larbas) (Valer Barna-Sabadus) to try to overthrow Carthage. 

Larba offers to marry Didone, but she is still in love with Enea and hopes that he’ll stay to help her defend her throne. He doesn’t, and Carthage falls, is burned to the ground by Larba, leaving Didone no other recourse but to kill herself. 

The cast also includes Magdalena Hinterdobler as Didone’s sister Selene, Maria Celeng as Larba’s confidant Araspe, and Andreas Burkehart as Osmida, the general of Didone’s troops who plots Didone’s downfall with Larba. 

Michael Hofstetter conducts the Hofcapelle Munchen. 

Pursuant to nothing, we’ll follow the opera with a symphony by a composer whose symphonies we’ve never featured on The Sunday Opera. 

Frans Schubert wrote several operas which have also been referred to as singspiel, we’ve never really found recordings that we’ve thought to be in good enough sound, but we’re still looking. However, we have found recordings of his symphonic works that are excellent, and we’re bringing one of those to you as a bit of a change from Hasse’s opera. 

Schubert’s symphonies are a bit of a muddle. Depending upon the source, he wrote seven nine or ten, and this afternoon’s opera is either number eight or nine. 

We’re going with Symphony No. 9 in C Major which has been labeled “The Great” so that it might not be confused with Schubert’s Symphony No. 6 which is also in C major and is referred to as “The Little.” 

“The Great” Symphony was considered too difficult for many orchestras to play in the 19th century when it premiered, and a London orchestra is said to have erupted in laughter when they tried to initially play the finale. 

Happily, we’ll be hearing from the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under the leadership of Philippe Herreweghe, and they have no trouble bringing Schubert’s grandeur to life.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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